The Story of Freda Manahi,
I was born in Christchurch, into a blended family of 10 children, I was number 11. We came up to Auckland when I was 5. My Dad was a provider and my Mum was a homemaker. My world was complete and secure. I felt loved and adored.
I knew who I was, where I belonged, and my family was close. I was the youngest of 11 children – the baby girl.
When I got hurt, Mum would treat me with her knowledge of natural Maori medicine, and taught me about herbal remedies and poultices from plant leaves -she was the one I always ran to in any trouble.
I never ever heard any arguing or violence between my parents. I remember the aroma of her home cooked meals and baking when I came home from school.
My Mum was a fantastic cook and she would do a lot of volunteer work, our home was an open home and we often had people through that Mum and Dad were helping.
Mum got sick with Cancer. I was 9 or 10 years old when I noticed the changes to her energy and body.
I saw her change physically from being a vibrant, strong, capable woman to nothing more than skin and bone, she was so frail, it hurt her to hold me. I was always told to go out of her room, not allowed to ask what was happening or allowed to hug her. It felt like she was sick for a long time before she died.
When Mum died, my heart broke. Our whole family felt lost and confused.
Everyone was afraid. Dad was a worker; he didn’t know what to do. Mum was the heart of our home and without her we felt like we couldn’t breathe. I didn’t understand and put up walls to protect myself. I felt alone and afraid. I had no one to talk to about what I was feeling.
Me and my older sister stuck together cause the adults weren’t talking with us. Dad’s heart was broken when Mum died. He did not know how to love us like she did, let alone raise 5 girls, instead he worked long hours to provide for us and drank. I always loved and respected my Dad for remaining on his own for the next 20 years before he died.
I was left out of my father’s love at home and felt ignored. I was teased about my mum being dead at school. I felt embarrassed about being different and I hated it.
The teasing shut me down, I was exposed and didn’t know who to talk to, my safe place was gone.
I was Incredibly lonely and just wanted to hide away. I hated attention and didn’t like to talk much. I was truant from school regularly to avoid the teachers asking me questions or from being teased or singled out.
I started playing up and was drinking alcohol at 11 years old, it was easy to get hold of and nobody cared.
Alcohol helped me cope with my overwhelming loneliness, shame and heartache. I got involved with a boy in the Black Saints gang. The other main gang at the time was the Mangere Dogs (which eventually became the Mongrel Mob.) Their pad was in the flats next to our homestead. I joined a girls’ gang and met up with other girls from different areas in Mangere, we would often get into fights and partied up at the ‘Logs’.
School was just a place to meet my friends, I was rebellious and when me and my friend’s got in trouble cause of our fights, Dad sent me to live with my sister.
My older sister and I were too much for my Dad to handle within the year of my Mum dying and so he made a decision to send me away to one of my older sisters who had a young family. I felt like I was unwanted and out of favour in my whanau.
Four years after my first long term boyfriend went away to Borstal in Levin, I met another man. He was my sisters’ brother-in-law and worked as a security guard in a pub. He was confident and charming.
However he had a very dark side to him that would be fully revealed to me 9 months into our relationship. Under his influence, I was introduced to crime, jail, violent abuse, pills and acid (trips).
My new boyfriend had had a rough upbringing - beaten by his father and influenced by his brother who had joined the Mob. Life with him was like nothing I could have ever imagined. He could knock out the biggest and staunchest men with his punch.
When he beat me, I would fight back as long as I could as he tried to knock me out.
I was controlled by fear and violence, constantly beaten down with his words and his fists. I would stay silent and take his beatings time after time, to avoid bringing attention to myself because I was embarrassed of my decision to be with him.
People were saying, “Oh well, Sis, you chose this life.”
He made me feel ugly and I couldn’t do anything right. I was told I was nothing. I believed his lies and was trapped.
I was so embarrassed, ashamed and afraid. I didn’t want my family to see the bruises or the cuts to my face and body, so I would hide in my room for days, sometimes weeks until I healed.
I lied to the hospital staff about my injuries, saying I had fallen down or that dislocations happened all the time because I had loose joints.
Once he had beaten me until I blacked out. I woke the next morning with a broken collar bone and a dislocated elbow, my face had been cleaned up and I saw a pile of bloodied sheets and towels in the corner of the room. He had tried to nurse me and even made me breakfast!
He was telling me he was sorry. I thought, “what the Hell am I still doing here?”
I was under his spell, and at his desperate pleading for me not to leave him, I agreed to not only stay but to marry him. Our ceremony was held at Paremoremo Maxi Prison in 1985. Our guests were six of the inmates (all Mongrel Mob), my two sisters and four of my friends. My Dad refused to attend my wedding.
Our marriage wasn’t because of love, it was all about control. I don’t remember feeling any love from him. I was so afraid.
Every time I had tried to leave, he would find me. He was full of anger, hate and bitterness and took it out on the one he was supposed to love and protect; even the ‘bros’ in the Mob couldn’t stop him from hurting me.
One promise I made myself was that the man I first slept with would be the man I would marry Regardless! And so, I stayed loyal.
I was trapped in a code of silence, controlled by fear and violence. I lied and covered for him constantly.
My family hated my husband for the way he treated me but were powerless to do anything about it. I was afraid of what would happen to my Dad and family if I tried to leave because of his threats of burning my family home down.
When he was in prison, I could relax, but whenever he got released, I was in constant stress and fear.
In October 1988, he got released from an 8 year lag in ‘Parry’ and announced we were moving to Rotorua. I thought we were moving to make a fresh start, but his motives were to recruit patch members for his MMM NZ chapter. Rotorua wasn’t all bad though, ‘cause this is where I first met Biddy Stewart, a woman who was set to change the course of my life.
After suffering through 3 tragic miscarriages I was finally hapu. I was staying alone in Rotorua because my husband was in Prison again, but I was happy. I gave birth to my daughter in 1989 in Rotorua hospital. She was so beautiful and precious to me, I felt truly blessed and fulfilled.
I poured all my love into my daughter. I wanted her to have the experience I had had in my early years with Mum.
I took her to visit her Dad in Prison when she was just 5 days old. I had also decided to leave Rotorua and asked to return to my father’s home, but because he had already taken in my older sisters and all their children, and because of all the grief I gave him because of my husband’s actions, he wouldn’t allow it. Instead, he put me and my girl in the flat next door (where the Mob had stayed years before).
“You made your bed, now you have to lie in it”
This only confirmed to me that I was alone and had no one who would protect or love me. I thought God was punishing me, it was the only way I could try and make sense of my situation.
I protected my daughter from the Mob, and never took her to any Mob events while her Dad was locked up. I didn’t know about prayer, but one night when my sister was drunk and freaking out – I spoke the only ‘God words’ I knew, which was the Lord’s Prayer in Maori.
I saw the peace that the prayer bought her and that’s when it hit me that God must be real and I needed his help.
Years later, after my husband had been released from his sentence in Waikeria, we traveled to Rotorua for Mob business. We heard Biddy had changed her life and left the Mob and drugs because of Destiny Church, so I took the opportunity to meet with her to see for myself.
Biddy was just the one I needed, I talked and she listened. Her peace and obvious changed life was the truth and light I needed to start my own journey out.
I began going along to some Destiny Church services in Cortina Place, Pakuranga after talking with Biddy, but I couldn’t commit fully to a complete change even though when Bishop preached, I felt like he was talking just to me.
I was stressed. Sick with uncertainty and having to keep my daughter safe.
I told my husband to leave and not to come back in 2009. He was screwing me up with his mind games. He was heavily addicted to Meth, having an affair with another woman and in massive debt due to his habit. Life with him was a living hell. My husband would take my girl and her boyfriend with him on his drug runs up and down the country. Our daughter was now living the life I was but three times worse off.
I was desperate and was pleading with God to show me a way out.
It was through Biddy and her husband Brett that I heard about Man Up. She managed to convince my husband to come along to their 2016 launch in Manukau. He sat through the talking and testimonies visibly agitated and sweating because he was coming down off a high.
At the challenge to ‘Man Up’ my husband was first on his feet and at the front.
Biddy nudged me, “that’s good aye, Sis?“ I was skeptical, “Nah, we’ll see if it lasts.”
Five weeks went by and my husband had been to his Man Up group every week!
Slowly, I observed obvious and lasting change in him. He had come off the Meth, his countenance had changed, he was peaceful and the violence and head games toward me had stopped. It was miraculous!
His transformation led me to reach out to Biddy again, this time for myself.
I sat stunned and silent for the first three sessions of Legacy; overwhelmed by these strange, confident and positive women.
I was too shy and ashamed to speak. My habit of hiding and staying quiet was being challenged, and it was hard. Biddy would speak of my potential and I would hang my head, unable to believe the good and positive things she would say to me.
Eventually, I began to gain confidence and started to lead different parts of the legacy group and slowly through the support of my beautiful sisterhood, I came out of my shell.
My daughter saw the massive change in her Dad, and a year later, she started attending Legacy with me. Her fiancée is going to Man Up and her life is now happy and content. She is full of gratitude for what Man Up & Destiny Church has done to heal our family.
God was turning my pain and sorrow into joy and beauty. I was amazed. This time, when I went back to Destiny Church I took my husband. We felt welcome and empowered.
We both gave our hearts to the Lord and were water baptised. The people we met were non-judgmental and they genuinely cared for us.
The walls I had built to protect myself were gently being pulled down and I felt loved, really loved. I realise now that God had shown me who he was though my Mum’s love; I recognized him in Church and I knew that he had been with me through all my hell.
My husband was changing before my eyes. I couldn’t believe how a Church could be doing this!
This man, who had lived in Prison for the majority of his adult life - cruel, cunning, violent and controlling; was now kind, caring and determined to be a better man, husband and father.
Jesus has restored my true identity and given me a purpose bigger than myself. Yes, my husband and I still have hard days and yes, we still make mistakes, but nothing like we used to.
What we found through Man Up, Legacy and Destiny Church were the keys to unlock our hurt and pain and bring us into freedom.
I have forgiven my husband. I trust him and respect his leadership. I love him. I love myself.
I honour Bishop Brian and Hannah Tamaki, they are incredible people and are genuine in their love for the Church. I love their passion and relentless drive to help other people, especially Maori.
My purpose, alongside my husband, is to heal the brokenhearted, to bring strength to the weak and hope to the hopeless. We were born for this cause and God has kept us alive for his glory.